Her prepared remarks told her backstory in detail. In a quiet, almost soothing voice, Yovanovitch schooled the listening public on her fearlessness while also correcting any misinformation that her life as a diplomat was a glamorous affair. Her chosen career of more than 30 years had given her a nomadic life, she said, one that regularly included being in harm’s way.
“There is a perception that diplomats lead a comfortable life throwing dinner parties in fancy homes. Let me tell you about some of my reality. It has not always been easy. I have moved 13 times and served in seven different countries, five of them hardship posts,” she said. She and her colleagues have been under gunfire as diplomats. But she carried on, she said, because it “was our duty.”
Her clothes sketched out the broad strokes of her identity as a veteran of Washington. “The woman,” as President Trump referred to her in a July 25 phone call, had slipped off her red coat to reveal a sizable American flag brooch glittering from the lapel of her dark jacket. It was striking because of its size, but also because it was a classically feminine accessory with its sparkly stones and its swirling lines. It was notable in the room, because the lapels of the mostly male panel — which was separated by party — were adorned with their congressional pins. Those little round discs rooted them in politics, in the inescapable talking points, inevitable grandstanding and poisonous unctuousness.
Yovanovitch signaled that she was there for country, for elusive, nonpartisan facts. Her brooch was in the stylish tradition of former secretary of state Madeleine Albright who built an entire diplomatic vocabulary on the symbolism of her many and varied pins. And Yovanovitch came in with the American flag twinkling.
In addition to her jewelry, Yovanovitch was also wearing an oversize scarf draped around her neck. It wasn’t tied. It wasn’t prim. The scarf was like a silken billboard. The eye was drawn to the gold, military references in its formal design. The scarf appeared to be a “grand uniforme” design by Joachim Metz for Hermès. In the center of a red border, there are eagles and crowns and references to sabers. It’s not a ghoulish or overtly violent pattern. It’s a stately declaration of military might, of a willingness to fight for one’s honor and the importance of respected traditions.
Is that reading too much into a few feet of silk? When committee chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) asked Yovanovitch to assess her work abroad, she noted, “I actually think where I’ve served over the years, I and others, have made things demonstrably better.” And then, she quietly but firmly pointed out that credit for improvements in areas where she was stationed goes to “the work of the United States and to me as the ambassador.”
Yovanovitch did not come before Congress to deny, play down or shrug off her professional acumen and her experience. She was prepared to defend her reputation because it was a presidential assault on it that had brought her there in the first place. And as she stood up for herself, she also tried to protect the country she served. Her scarf was a billowing reminder of the value of the state — the beauty of it, even.
The woman at the witness table did not weaponize fashion. She deputized it to speak freely and with diplomatic aplomb.
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